Multifaceted Mod Clarence Williams III Dead At 81 : NPR

The actor Clarence Williams III has died. He was best known for playing Linc Hayes in The Mod Squad and Prince’s father in Purple Rain.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The actor Clarence Williams III died of colon cancer. That’s what his manager says. He was 81 years old. Mandalit del Barco from NPR has this memory.

(SOUNDBITE BY AL CAIOLAS “THE MOD SQUAD THEME”)

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Clarence Williams III played Lincoln Hayes on the televised counterculture cop show “The Mod Squad”. Linc’s backstory was that he had been an activist during the Watts Riots. He goes undercover with Peggy Lipton’s headstrong flower child character and long-haired Michael Cole, whose character was arrested for stealing a car. This is Williams at WHYY’s Fresh Air in 1995.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

CLARENCE WILLIAMS III: The three of us were never really officially part of the police. We were like these juvenile delinquents turned into better people. But we never carried guns or had shootings or anything like that.

DEL BARCO: You used your street wisdom to solve crimes and hunt down bad guys. The popular show about the hippie generation ran from 1968 to 1973.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE TV SHOW, “THE MOD SQUAD”)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Cops – one white, one black, one blonde – The Mod Squad.

DEL BARCO: Linc was one of the rare main black characters on television. In one episode he starred alongside guest star Sammy Davis Jr.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE TV SHOW, “THE MOD SQUAD”)

WILLIAMS: (as Lincoln Hayes) Well you made the headlines. They call you the troublemaker, the militant priest.

SAMMY DAVIS JR: (as Billy Lee Watson) Well that’s your title, not mine, Linc.

DEL BARCO: Williams grew up in Harlem, grew up with his grandparents with music and art. After serving as a paratrooper, he began acting. He received a Tony nomination for a role on the 1964 Broadway show “Slow Dance On The Killing Ground”. Williams told Fresh Air that the “I Spy” star was performing on him and that he was flown to Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

WILLIAMS: Without my knowledge, until I got to Hollywood they said this was a screen test for a series we were going to do called “The Mod Squad”. And you were recommended to us by Bill Cosby. And that’s how it happened.

DEL BARCO: Williams’ role spanned genres and decades, everything from Miami Vice and Hill Street Blues to Twin Peaks and Everybody Hates Chris. In the 1984 film “Purple Rain” he played Prince’s abusive musician father, and here he cursed his son when he was interested in his piano playing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “PURPLE RAIN”)

PRINCE: (as the child) Is that yours?

WILLIAMS: (As a father) Of course it’s mine. Who else is it supposed to be?

PRINCE: (as The Kid) I would like to see her. Did you write it down somewhere?

WILLIAMS: (As a father) No, man. I don’t write them down. I do not have to. That’s the big difference between you and me.

DEL BARCO: Williams also played an exaggerated drug dealer in the comedy “Half-Baked” alongside Dave Chappelle, but he will always be remembered as one of the Mod Squad.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY “YOUR HAND IN MY (goodbye)”)

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